Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 29, 2006

11-1 GOP Chances

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The state GOP has had more than its share of bad luck this year, but it may pull our a few good wins anyway.
Events at the national level have not helped. National leaders have dusted off an old Democrat clich� that "all politics is local," but it surely appears that the president and Republican Congressional leaders will have a major negative impact on local and state races.
We need only to look back at 1994 to remember how badly national politics can poison local races. Democrats lost both houses of Congress by big margins. It could happen again, although no one is predicting a loss of 50-some seats in the House this time. Fifteen is all the Democrats need.
Then there were the two doctors who were predicted to be just what the party needed to nurse it back to health. Urologist Allen McCulloch won a convincing U.S. Senate primary in June but has been a non-factor in challenging incumbent Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who may lead the Democrat ticket in November.
To make matters worse, McCulloch was cited for careless driving in an auto accident that caused the other vehicle to burst into flames inflicting serious burns to the wife of a former state senator the GOP once punished for getting too friendly with Democrat legislative leaders.
Radiologist J.R. Damron was unopposed in the Republican gubernatorial primary, so garnered no free publicity in June. By July, dead in the water, he was replaced by former state GOP chairman John Dendahl.
High hopes that the feisty Dendahl would energize the campaign with an all-out assault on Gov. Bill Richardson were soon dashed when Dendahl ran into major problems raising money to get those attacks on the air.
Dendahl said his problem was caused by Richardson's intimidation of potential donors. But other factors had to be Richardson's 2-1 lead in the polls 20-1 lead in fundraising. Richardson is expected to be close behind Bingaman on election day, with over a 60 percent showing.
Dendahl received a further setback when his capable spokeswoman, Paige McKenzie, was savagely beaten while on the job. She is slowly recovering but will be out for the rest of the campaign.
Another setback came from 1st Congressional District incumbent Rep. Heather Wilson who suggested Gov. Richardson might be a good envoy to talk with North Korea about its nuclear intentions.
National GOP hit-woman Ann Coulter came to Dendahl's rescue on that one, calling Richardson "Kim Jong Il's pal." She also called Richardson an idiot.
Wilson's positive gesture toward Richardson was an indication that she's in the race of her congressional career. I'm still picking her for a narrow victory but I'm in the minority.
Below the governor's race, things seem to be getting a little brighter. Most newspapers around the state appear to be giving endorsements to Republicans for secretary of state, state auditor and state land commissioner.
Money is coming in hot and heavy for Republican candidates in the statewide down-ballot races. Most of it has been in big chunks from Houston home builder Bob Perry, no relation to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
When asked about the big donations to these candidates and to several legislative races, Perry explained that New Mexico has an effect on the Texas economy.
He would know better than I since it's his money. I've tried to confirm that with some of my Texas acquaintances, but so far, they haven't quit laughing long enough to give me an answer.
As for those legislative races, the New Mexico GOP could buck the national trend by picking up a few seats this year. Democrat retirements in some House districts that could go Republican may lead to GOP gains in Rep. Joe Stell's Eddy County district and in Fred Luna's and Kandy Cordova's Valencia County seats.
Democrat Rep. Don Whitaker will get a tough challenge in Lea County, as will some other Democrat incumbents in GOP territory.
WED, 11-1-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

10-30 Carla Aragon Is My Choice

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- My vote goes to Carla Aragon. Unfortunately, the KOB-TV anchorwoman will not be on my ballot on Nov. 7, but if I were in the 1st Congressional District, I'd write her in.
The much awaited debate between Rep. Heather Wilson and her Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid finally came about last Tuesday night. I managed to sacrifice an hour of World Series watching to see how they did.
The debate wasn't comfortable to watch because both candidates were stiff, uneasy and mean. Little wonder, since the stakes were so high. This is one of the 25, or so, pivotal races that will decide control of our next Congress.
Madrid only wanted one televised debate and this was it. Her reasons for doing so seemed obvious. Wilson was more assured and in command. As the incumbent, she likely had to devote less time to preparing.
Madrid stuck close to her scripted message, careful not to make any missteps. Both candidates got in a few zingers and had to dance around a few difficult questions.
Neither candidate ever smiled or said anything indicating even the slightest sense of humor. Such behavior does not come naturally to Wilson, a former starched-shirt Air Force officer.
Humor and smiling do come naturally to Madrid but part of the GOP strategy seems to be that smiling is a negative for Madrid. The first attack ads aired against her showed candid shots of her smiling at campaign rallies. Eventually they were replaced by more solemn shots, possibly because focus groups thought they were flattering to Madrid.
GOP gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl also took a shot at Madrid in one of the campaign blurbs on his Web site. While speaking about corruption in the state treasurer's office, instead of saying that the attorney general did not investigate, he said, "Madrid smiled."
Maybe I'm too hung up on humor, but I think it would help a lot of campaigns. The Bill Richardson ad in which he plays a milk-drinking cowboy is a breath of fresh air.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger uses humor to an advantage also. In a recent debate, when it came time for the candidates to ask each other a question, Ahnold's question was "What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in this campaign."
His Democrat opponent was thrown so far off balance by the question that he had great trouble recovering. The audience loved it.
The stakes were high for KOB-TV too as the only station to carry a debate. The production was very professional and the moderators, Tom Joles and Carla Aragon performed their jobs well.
But the only times I felt truly comfortable were during the questions from Aragon, who is genuinely nice. It got me to thinking how much more I would like her to be representing New Mexico in Washington. If Larry Ahrens, from KKOB radio can run for governor, maybe Carla should think about running for Congress.
For now, 1st Congressional District voters are stuck with a choice between Wilson and Madrid. This appears to be the first time we will see a significant Democratic challenge in this district since it was created in 1982.
Madrid may not be the best of the challengers, but she came along at the right time. She may also be the most heavily recruited Democratic challenger ever to run in the district. National Democrats knew there might be an opportunity this year for some major gains and possibly even a shift of power in the U.S. House.
Madrid is ending two terms as attorney general. She has good name recognition because she has run for statewide office often and is known as a tough campaigner, win or lose.
Reportedly, Madrid wasn't excited about taking on Rep. Wilson who has a record of trouncing opponents. But Democratic leaders knew this year might be different and they needed a candidate who has proven she can win.
MON, 10-30-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Sunday, October 22, 2006

10-27 Anonymous Congressional Challengers

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- With somewhere around 25 percent of the electorate already having voted, few New Mexicans yet know much of anything about the congressional candidates on their ballot.
That's with the notable exception of the 1st Congressional District, where we know too much about the candidates, and little of it is good.
The situation is not unusual nationwide. Only about 30 seats out of the 535 in Congress are competitive, and the incumbent still wins most of those. But this year, with Republicans in trouble nationally, the competitive seats held by the GOP definitely are in play.
That is where both parties are putting their money. Gobs of it, with almost no attention being paid to the other 500 seats. So the rest of us have to suffer while the House candidates in Albuquerque slug it out and we hear almost nothing about our Senate and House races.
The majority of New Mexico voters probably can name their U.S. House member and the incumbent U.S. senator who is up for election. But it's unlikely more than about one percent can name the challengers.
Those three candidates have received no help from their state or national party so we won't be seeing them on TV. That's too bad, because they're OK guys, but they're anonymous.
In the 3rd Congressional District, Republican Ron Dolin still hasn't filed a campaign report. He doesn't have to because he hasn't raised $5,000 yet.
When a group wants to schedule a debate between him and incumbent Rep. Tom Udall, Dolin takes vacation leave from his Los Alamos employer. Otherwise he stays on his job as a Ph.D. mechanical engineer for Bechtel, the new national lab contractor.
Dolin gets his word out mainly through a Web site, into which he has put a great amount of effort stating positions on a large number of issues facing the federal government. The site also contains a blog with many interesting observations, not all of which agree with GOP philosophy.
In the 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Al Kissling gets around a lot more than Dolin does. Kissling is a retired Presbyterian minister with a great amount of energy. He has been in every county in his district at least once and has appeared on many talk shows.
Kissling makes a very good presentation, as one might expect of a preacher. He has a good grasp of the issues facing our nation and knows his party's position.
He would love to be able to debate Republican incumbent, Rep. Steven Pearce. But Pearce, like Gov. Bill Richardson, won't hear of it. In order to quiet Kissling's criticism's of his unwillingness to debate, Pearce agreed to a joint appearance in Las Cruces on a weekday afternoon, with no television coverage.
But that was it. As it did with Gov. Richardson's refusal to debate, KOB-TV in Albuquerque gave Kissling a half hour with its evening anchors to get his word out. Kissling put the time to good use with a polished performance.
Pearce doesn't have presidential ambitions, but otherwise his reasons for not debating are about the same as Richardson's. Basically, he doesn't have to. People will put him back in office anyway, so why go to the trouble?
Debates seldom do incumbents much good. The risks they might trip up or their opponent might hit a home run are greater than anything they might gain. And voters don't seem to punish them for not debating.
Dr. Allen McCulloch of Farmington is the GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman. McCulloch was impressive in winning the Republican primary last June against a state senator, who had run for statewide office before, and a Santa Fe city councilor.
But the win didn't give him enough of a boost to get his blip up on the radar screen in the general election. The Farmington urologist reportedly has family money but this race just doesn't look promising enough for much of an investment.
FRI, 10-27-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Saturday, October 21, 2006

10-25 Can We Do Without Debates?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We wouldn't have learned much from a gubernatorial debate but we should have had one anyway.
GOP challenger John Dendahl would have gotten off all his witty one-line jabs at Gov. Bill Richardson. And in the process, Dendahl might have gotten a little too snarly as he has already with teachers and Hispanic legislators.
Gov. Richardson would have used his canned talking points and his canned responses to Dendahl's one-liners. We might have heard one more new proposal for what government can do for someone. And he might have slipped up somewhere.
But having a debate just to see if anyone self-destructs is like going to a car race hoping to see a good wreck. It doesn't add anything of value to the campaign or the sport.
Richardson maintained that debating Dendahl would be "a disservice to voters" because all Dendahl does is tear down New Mexico. KOB-TV in Albuquerque gave Dendahl the opportunity anyway with 25 minutes of airtime with its two evening anchors.
Dendahl didn't use his time to tear down New Mexico. He used it to tear down its governor. And Richardson wasn't there to defend himself. Dendahl thanked KOB for the opportunity. Anchor Carla Aragon replied, "It's a service to the voters," a fairly obvious response to Richardson's excuse for not debating.
Dendahl may have identified the major reason Richardson didn't want a televised debate. The governor wants to run for president and didn't want an hour of airtime for his 2008 opponents to use in campaign commercials.
But if Richardson does run for president, he is going to have to appear in many debates leading up to the primary election. This one could have helped him sharpen his skills against an intelligent, articulate and witty opponent.
Fortunately for Richardson, those are about the only arrows Dendahl has in his quiver. He has little money and a divided state Republican Party behind him. He has talked little about issues or about specific solutions to major state problems, so Richardson didn't have a lot to lose.
Dendahl sadly finds himself in much the same position as terrorists down through the ages. Incapable of winning a war but able to inflict great pain in guerrilla attacks.
Pardon the analogy for those of you who are sensitive to the subject. Remember that one side's terrorist is the other's patriotic freedom fighter. What do you think the British called out founding fathers?
Richardson seems afraid of Dendahl's guerrilla attacks. State Democratic Chairman John Wertheim used a basketball analogy and called them fouls. But the governor needs to become accustomed to drawing fouls if he wants to move up with the big boys.
Debates seemed to be Dendahl's main plan when he got into the governor's race. He said he was watching TV news one night with his wife, who said she'd love John to run for governor so she could watch them debate.
Short of debates and TV commercials, New Mexicans will have to go to Dendahl's Web site It has a series of about 20 video clips that possibly would have been Dendahl's TV ads if he had been able to raise money.
Check them out. They are interesting. Shot on the extreme cheap, the ads have no production value. It's just John sitting there in a blue open-collared shirt chatting. There is no script. John doesn't need one. He's pleasant enough to look at, enjoyable to listen to, and doesn't pound the viewer with an overly-dramatic message.
Some of Dendahl's messages are over the top such as when he claims New Mexico is "rotten to the core" because Democrats have run it for too long.
Otherwise, he doesn't tear down the state any more than Richardson did four years ago when he claimed New Mexico was first in everything bad and last in everything good. Dendahl says it still is.

WED, 10-25-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dems Might Take All Statewide Races

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Democrat candidates have a good shot at taking all the statewide races on the ballot.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Gov. Bill Richardson, who head the ticket, appear on their way to at least 60-40 routs of their challengers. Couple that with the tendency of Democrats to continue straight down the ballot through the little-known candidates for minor state offices and we have the possibility that Democrats will run the table.
The down-ballot race getting the most publicity currently is the contest for state treasurer between Democrat James Lewis and Republican Demesia Padilla.
One might expect that race to receive significant ink because of scandals involving the previous two Democrat treasurers. It presents Republicans with the perfect opportunity to vow to get in there and clean up the mess left by Democrats.
The GOP is making some effort along those lines but it has been drowned out by a misguided attempt to tie Lewis to Gov. Richardson. A mailer showing Richardson as a puppeteer maneuvering strings tied to Lewis, who is Black, has punched all the expected hot buttons.
Lewis says it reminds him of someone being lynched. Black community leaders are crying "Jim Crow" and demanding an apology or else they won't vote for Padilla.
Not voting for Padilla isn't much of a threat, considering the loyalty of Blacks to the Democratic Party. But Black ministers say they are organizing other Black churches throughout the state to turn out members of their congregations who don't normally vote.
The real harm done here is that it requires Padilla to go on the defensive and assert that she isn't a racist. From all accounts, Padilla is not a racist. In fact, a racist might have been less likely to approve the cartoon for fear of revealing her true self.
The state GOP came to Padilla's defense, contending that accusing a Hispanic woman of being a racist is ridiculous. Actually, it isn't so ridiculous. White males do not have the corner on racism.
And while the GOP was defending Hispanic females, someone reportedly went after another one, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a few days later, depicting her as a puppet on the strings of House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi. That cartoon would seem to carry the double message that America is in danger of having its first female speaker of the House.
Lewis could have done better in his response to the cartoon. He could have let others make the racist charges while noting that during the six years he served as treasurer in the 1980s, he proved himself to be independent and above reproach.
The puppet charge is mainly the result of Richardson contributing $10,000 to Lewis' campaign. That was the lowest amount Richardson contributed to any of the Democrat statewide candidates.
The closest statewide race is the one between Republican Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons and his Democrat opponent, former Land Commissioner Jim Baca. Lyons has a big lead in fundraising. Richardson has contributed $40,000 to Baca, who in the most recent poll had a four-point lead with a margin of error almost the same size.
The state auditor race seems as though it should be another major GOP target after Democrats dumped their primary election winner. But instead, the money and assistance seems to be going to secretary of state candidate Vickie Perea, whom polls show trailing Democrat Mary Herrera by a good margin, and to attorney general candidate Jim Bibb, who trails Democrat Gary King by an even wider margin.
Oct. 10 campaign reports indicate Gov. Richardson contributed $25,000 to attorney general candidate Gary King, land commissioner candidate Jim Baca and auditor candidate Hector Balderas.
The only Democrat not listed as receiving money was secretary of state candidate Mary Herrera. The two clashed last spring over Richardson's successful effort to return the state to paper ballots. Herrera has since changed her position. Richardson hosted a major fundraiser for her on Oct. 13.
MON, 10-23-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, October 16, 2006

10-20 Republicans Will Eke It Out

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We've been hearing dire predictions about the fate of the Republican Party in the 2006 elections.
At this point, I'm willing to accept that GOP candidates have been weakened, but I'm not yet convinced that it is to the extent of losing control of either house of Congress.
One of the 15 seats in the U.S. House that Republicans would have to lose in order for Democrats to take control is New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, currently being represented by Rep. Heather Wilson.
Telltale signs are emerging that this race may not be quite like Wilson's previous victories in which opponents surged close to her in pre-election polls and outdid her on election day, only to be inundated by absentee ballots giving her an easy victory.
The Bernalillo county clerk's office reports that 9,000 of the first 13,000 absentee ballots it mailed earlier this month were to Democrats. Unless many of those 9,000 are Democrats who traditionally have supported Wilson, that looks like a sea change.
Republicans have long had a distinct advantage in organizing absentee ballot drives. Their voters have responded much more dependably to mailings urging them to vote absentee.
The difference this year is that Gov. Bill Richardson is using some of those millions he has collected for his campaign to hire workers throughout the state to personally contact Democrats with absentee ballot applications.
We'll learn on election night just how successful Richardson's field effort has been. It should assist all Democrat candidates. Wilson's challenger, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, says she also has a strong door-to-door campaign in Albuquerque.
The changing tide of New Mexican feelings about President Bush and the war in Iraq is hurting Wilson. It doesn't help that she was on the House Select Committee on Intelligence when President Bush outlined his justifications for taking us to war.
Wilson also is skewered for being one of three members on the House Page Board from 2001 to 2005, while the scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley began unfolding.
Wilson says she never heard a thing about Foley's actions toward male pages. There is little reason to disbelieve her even though the head of the page board admits he was aware of the misbehavior.
In Congress, party loyalty trumps all else because members of the majority party get the major perks. That means allegations of member misconduct travel up through the party's hierarchy rather than being referred to the page board.
The third member of that board was a Democrat. There was no way he could be told. It appears that Foley only messed around with pages sponsored by Republican House members. If Democrats had any prior knowledge, they would have blown the whistle long ago.
Republican political pundit Robert Novak has now moved the Wilson-Madrid race into his "lean Democrat" column, stating that the district cannot be counted on to perform as in the past.
The trouble for Democrats is that the district, even though it always has been majority Democrat, has been won by three different Republicans 12 straight times since its creation in 1982.
Is the 13th time a charm? Are conditions sufficiently different this time? The last time an unpopular president kept us in an unpopular war was 1968.
That president was a Democrat. Our two congressmen were Democrats and they were both beaten by Republican challengers, while we also were electing a Republican governor and president.
We are told not to compare Iraq with Vietnam but it could happen again. I'm guessing, at this point, that it won't quite happen. Texas and Colorado redistricted congressional seats again in 2003 after Republicans took over those legislatures. The seats they gained may provide the cushion Republicans need to keep control of the House.
And by the time you read this, Sen. Pete Domenici likely will be in the state stumping for his prot�g�.
I'll let you know if new developments change my assessment.
FRI, 10-20-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Saturday, October 14, 2006

10-18 Here's the Ballot Questions

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Constitutional amendments and bond issues are the orphans of the general election ballot.
Millions of dollars and countless hours are spent by candidates promoting themselves, but with few exceptions, constitutional amendments and bond issues receive scant support or attention.
Two of the exceptions were the constitutional amendments Gov. Bill Richardson spent his first summer in office campaigning to get passed.
One of the amendments transferred authority over public schools from the state Board of Education to the governor. The other amendment increased the yearly amount of money from the state permanent fund that is earmarked for public schools.
Otherwise, constitutional amendments normally have only small, underfunded constituencies to back them. Bond issues usually have somewhat broader constituencies but they have no way of competing with candidates for voter attention.
So please pay attention to the following discussion of ballot issues because it likely will be the only time you will hear them discussed. With all the personal attacks and misleading ads by candidates, it may also be the only time you will hear issues discussed.
There is another reason to read about them here -- especially for us old folks. The print in this newspaper is a lot bigger than it will be on your ballot.
Only four constitutional amendments appear on the ballot this year. That is fewer than usual. We saw an upswing in amendment proposals during the Gary Johnson administration. His many vetoes of legislative measures prompted some lawmakers to try submitting their ideas directly to voters rather than to the governor.
Amendment 1 proposes to repeal a constitutional provision preventing certain people and businesses from owning property. It was added to our constitution in the early '20s when the nation became worried that the influx of Asians would take over our country.
The passage was rendered ineffective in 1975, by other legislation. This amendment is being promoted as clean up language to polish any negative image our state might receive from having a racial exclusion in our constitution.
Critics contend the amendment is unnecessary. Our constitution contains hundreds of ineffective and irrelevant passages. If clean up is necessary, let's have a constitutional convention to clean up all of our overly-long and detailed constitution.
Amendment 2 would allow the state and school districts, including charter schools to enter into lease purchase agreements for buildings in order to relieve severe financial constraints faced by many school districts. Critics argue that voter-approved bond elections are the only way to assure accountability.
Amendment 3 creates a water trust fund to support critically needed projects to preserve and protect our state's water supply. Proponents maintain putting it in the constitution will help attract more federal assistance. Critics point out it already is in law.
Amendment 4 broadens the use of affordable housing funds from current use only for infrastructure to allow land acquisition, construction, renovation and financing. Critics maintain there are too many abuses of affordable housing to liberalize it further.
Much additional information can be found on the secretary of state's Web site I personally have reservations about all of them.
Statewide bond issues always are the same. One is for senior citizen centers; one is for education and one is for other popular issues that might win voter approval. The Legislature has two other pots of money for projects it knows wouldn't stand a chance of winning statewide approval.
Senior citizen centers will turn out their clients to assure passage of Bond Question A. Colleges and universities will do a good job of convincing their communities of the building needs in Bond Question B. Libraries are the recipients of this year's Bond Question C. They may need some help.
WED, 10-18-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, October 12, 2006

10-16 More worries emerge about non-English speakers

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- English language measures are seeing a big resurgence on local and state ballots next month, including neighboring Arizona.
Ten years ago, the efforts were for English-only or official English laws, but those ran into charges of racism. Now we are seeing efforts to make English our national language or common language.
The push is being stoked by the immigration debate. The U.S. Senate passed two different pieces of legislation last spring making English either our national language or our common and unifying language.
The only possible good coming out of this is that Congress is so bad at solving real problems that it might as well concentrate on problems that don't exist.
America is the most open society in the world so it is natural that some of us would fret that our language and culture will be hijacked by foreigners. But it never has come close to happening.
I chuckled on Columbus Day that a century ago we agonized over Italians not learning English as quickly as the Germans did 100 years earlier. But back then Benjamin Franklin warned that Germans were going to "germinate" our country and never fit in.
And now Italians have become so well accepted that they have a national holiday of their own. Columbus Day isn't officially an Italian holiday but they started it and they've made it as much their own day as St. Patrick's Day is for the Irish.
The truth is that the United States has become known as a graveyard for foreign languages. Older immigrants often don't learn our language well. But their children do. They're usually bilingual. And by the time the next generation comes along, they speak only English.
That is sure to make many Americans happy. But it shouldn't. A monolingual nation can't be as competitive in a global economy. This summer, my wife and I were in Belgium, a nation with three official languages, none of them English.
A guide told us that if, during our two hours to stroll around the town, we got lost, we could ask directions of anyone because English was everyone's fourth language. Sure enough, we had a chance to test it and it worked.
So don't lose too much sleep about Spanish language billboards or about the Spanish language and culture taking over our nation. All immigrants know that learning English is the way to get ahead. And nearly all of them came here to get ahead.
On the other side of the coin, English will not be the global language anytime soon either. That's about as far-fetched as the Spanish language taking over the United States.
The world holds three times as many native speakers of Chinese as native speakers of English. Although English is the second most common native language, we are losing ground to languages from countries with higher birth rates.
In 40 years, English is projected to cede second place to the South Asian linguistic group and soon after, we'll be passed by Arabic and Spanish. The proportion of native speakers of English is projected to drop from over 8 percent in 1950 to less than 5 percent in 2050.
The strength of English is among those who adopt it as a second language, often for business or technological reasons. A large majority of science and technology is communicated in English, mainly because we developed it.
English-speaking countries dominate world trade so it's good business to speak English. It's also good for tourism in non-English-speaking countries. And I don't have to tell you about the worldwide marketing of American products, movies and television. We're everywhere.
The Internet is overwhelmingly English, for now. Air and sea traffic is controlled in a simplified English. There are many variables affecting how widely English will spread but it is likely to be a simplified English that may have many different dialects.
MON, 10-16-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

10-13 Controversial Christopher Columbus

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- No national holiday is more controversial than Columbus Day. Martin Luther King Day isn't particularly popular everywhere but Columbus seems to spark outright animosity among many throughout the hemisphere.
The strongest feelings come from those who were here before Columbus "discovered" them. They detest the historical inaccuracy but their big complaint is the treatment of native people that followed.
For a New Mexico perspective, watch Surviving Columbus, a TV documentary by New Mexican Diane Reyna. It presents the Pueblo Indians' 450-year struggle to preserve their culture.
The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico celebrate Friendship Day instead of Columbus Day due to the controversy surrounding atrocities committed against peoples of the Caribbean.
Closer to home, Minnesota refuses to celebrate Columbus Day because that state's many descendents of the Vikings contend there now is ample proof that their ancestors were here 500 years earlier.
Many historians agree, arguing that Columbus' achievements are not worthy of a national holiday. Although he was the first to bring European culture to the Americas, he wasn't the first one here.
In truth, the legend of Columbus has been greatly embellished to the point of becoming myth. Early-American author Washington Irving penned an overly-dramatic "biography" of Columbus that was so popular it became accepted as fact.
Who were the first people to arrive in the New World? The Bering Land Bridge theory has prevailed for the past half-century. It establishes the first Americans at about 13,000 years old. Digs near Clovis and Folsom, New Mexico were key to developing that theory.
But scientists are now beginning to wonder if there might have been more than one migration. Evidence is slowly emerging of artifacts dating back as many as 55,000 years. Some of that evidence also is here in New Mexico.
In 1940, University of New Mexico professor Frank Hibben claimed to have found evidence of a 20,000 year-old Sandia Man. But technical problems and sloppy record keeping resulted in that find never being accepted by scholars.
Now, a recent excavation at Pendejo Cave, near Orogrande in southern New Mexico, has revealed radiocarbon datings over 55,000 years old. For the time being, archaeologists can't get at it because not only is it on Otero Mesa, it also is on the MacGregor Range of Fort Bliss. So far, I haven't found out how the cave got that crazy name.
For now, that leaves Columbus in the catbird seat. Even though he sailed for Spain and is responsible for most countries of the Western Hemisphere being of Spanish culture, Columbus was Italian and Italians have captured the holiday as a celebration of their heritage in America.
And Italians had much to do with starting Columbus Day observances, first in cities with large Italian populations, such as New York and San Francisco in the 1860s. Then, in 1905, the first state celebration was in Colorado.
In 1937, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and service organization, prevailed on President Franklin Roosevelt to declare October 12 a national holiday.
There is an outside chance that Italians had more to do with the first voyage of Columbus than history suggests. An Italian journalist and author, Ruggero Marino is making a case for Vatican involvement in financing the voyage.
Then-Pope Innocent VIII was closely connected with Genoa, the birthplace of Columbus, and with the powerful and wealthy Medici family. He maintains the Pope wanted another shot at winning the Holy Lands away from the Muslims again. Columbus was to find them the riches to mount another crusade.
A week before Columbus sailed, the Pope died and was replaced by a Spanish pope, whom Marino's book claims covered up Italian involvement in the Columbus voyage. Through a series of uncertainties, reminding one of the Da Vinci Code, the cover-up vanished to the secret archives of the Vatican, never to be seen again.
FRI, 10-13-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Friday, October 06, 2006

10-11 Heather's Declaration of Independence

WED, 10-11-06

SANTA FE -- The buzz-word for this campaign is "Independent." Republican congressional candidates throughout the nation suddenly are independent as soon as they see their constituents turning away from President George W. Bush.
Rep. Heather Wilson, of New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, is independent this time around, as Albuquerque-area voters begin turning away from the president. Her fellow Republican, Steve Pearce, down in the 2nd Congressional District, can remain a conservative because a majority of his constituents continue to back George Bush.
For the past several decades, "Conservative" has been the magic word to get Republican candidates elected. They always branded their Democratic opponents as liberal, a label only slightly better than communist.
In GOP primary elections, candidates have long fought over who is most conservative. Moderate is a bad word. Rush Limbaugh once dared listeners to call in and name a moderate who ever had done anything good for the world. Sure enough, no one passed the test.
Occasionally, Republicans will even label one of their own as a liberal -- the equivalent of excommunication from the party. Former Gov. Dave Cargo received that stamp in the 1994 gubernatorial primary.
Cargo finished fourth out of four candidates and became the only person ever to come in behind John Dendahl in an election. Dendahl finished third.
Washington political observers have always called New Mexico's Sen. Pete Domenici one of the Senates' great moderates. But Pete runs as a conservative in New Mexico.
His quiet moderation has prevented Domenici from going farther in the Senate leadership and from being selected as a vice-presidential running mate. Imagine how happy the George H.W. Bush administration would have been to have had Vice President Domenici instead of Vice President Quayle.
Moderate Democrats get around the disgraced word by calling themselves centrists. The Democratic Leadership Council, composed of Southern governors and congressmen, came up with the idea in the late 1980s.
Their first successful field test on a national scale was Bill Clinton's campaign for president in 1992. It worked, and we continue to hear about centrism, including in Bill Richardson's gubernatorial campaigns.
The national Republican strategy understandably allows congressional candidates to distance themselves from the president, even while inviting him to help raise campaign funds.
There is a clever method of allowing candidates in marginal districts to establish independence from their political party. Republicans and Democrats both do it and have done it from the beginning, both in Congress and in state legislatures.
Rep. Wilson has an ad about voting against the president on stem cell research. Actually it was a veto override, which requires a two-thirds vote. House Republican leaders had plenty of votes to stop an override so they gave permission to those members facing tough opposition in swing districts to vote against the party position unless their vote was needed to offset some last-minute defections.
On important votes, there usually aren't many defections. The party whip system has every vote closely identified. Lawmakers aren't always completely candid with lobbyists and constituents but party discipline makes it difficult to be evasive with a whip.
So those Republican House members, who voted for the unsuccessful override, not only were given a free pass, but some free advertising. New Mexico isn't the only state where those independent-on-stem-cell-research ads are airing.
If Wilson wins this campaign, presumably her toughest ever, maybe she won't have to worry anymore about waving the banner of independence. Maybe she'll be as well off as Pete and able to say and do what she pleases.
Also on the lips of Washington Republicans this election are favorable references to Harry Truman. Oh that Harry could still be around to hear them because there weren't nearly as many encouraging words while he was in office.
The nation wasn't sure it liked a plain-spoken commoner as its president. This was a guy who never owned his own home and who had a very average family. Now he's an icon. He'd have some choice observations.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

10-9 Can Heather Pull This One Out?

MON. 10-09-06

SANTA FE -- Election days are here. Absentee ballots are being mailed out as of October 10 to those who have requested them. Early voting starts Oct. 21.
Republicans traditionally have done very well getting their absentee ballots requested and mailed. Those votes are what are expected to rescue Rep. Heather Wilson one more time, despite her current low poll numbers in the 1st Congressional District race against Attorney General Patricia Madrid.
Granted, Wilson's numbers are lower this year than they ever have been. One national poll has her 10 points down to Madrid. But Wilson, and Steve Schiff before her, has always been able to make up any deficits at the polls, once the absentee numbers begin coming in. They always have ended with comfortable margins.
What probably has to be said this time is that if Wilson does win again, her margin will not be nearly as comfortable as in the past.
At this point, the momentum is with Madrid and it could increase if the congressional page sex scandal of GOP Rep. Foley continues. There seem to be new revelations daily
Wilson's lack of knowledge or action on the Foley situation, despite her seat on the congressional page oversight committee has somewhat blunted her charge about Madrid's lack of action in the state Treasurer scandal.
The state treasurer situation has been argued to death and it will continue to be. But here are some facts about the congressional page program you likely haven't seen or heard.
No one connected with the page program or with Congress can claim to be unaware of the danger to 17-year-old boys and girls who win a spot in the program. Ever since the page sex scandal of the early '80s, and probably long before, pages have been warned that they will be working around a group of powerful adults whose sexual urges are no lower and no less diverse, that those of any group of people.
Pages attend school on the top floor of the Library of Congress early in the morning, when members of Congress are in committee meetings. By the time floor sessions begin, they are on the floor of the chamber to which they are assigned; ready to be of whatever help is needed.
In the Senate, pages sit at the front of the chamber, so female pages are required to wear pants. That enables senators to concentrate on affairs of state rather than other affairs that might enter their minds. House pages sit in the rear of their chamber and may wear dresses.
One of the rotating page assignments are the capitol cloak rooms, the House and Senate lounges containing a snack bar, restrooms, easy chairs and meeting tables. Pages are warned that their presence will not be noted by lawmakers and that they can expect to hear locker room language sometimes.
So everyone understands, this isn't a church social. Problems usually aren't reported. If they are, it's typically to the lawmaker who nominated them for the program, rather than to the page director.
So Wilson, as a member of the page oversight committee, wasn't likely to hear of problems. They more often are reported to the leadership of the lawmaker's party and the offending member is quietly told to back off.
The big political problem comes when the member of Congress continues his bad behavior until caught and it is learned that his party leadership covered it up.
Voters, who begin receiving their absentee ballots this week, may want to hold onto them for a few weeks awaiting further developments in this congressional race.
There aren't many other close races to watch. The state Land Commission race could be a cliffhanger. Republican incumbent Patrick Lyons is outspending Democrat Jim Baca in a big way. But Baca has won despite being outspent before. He was elected mayor of Albuquerque despite being outspent by three opponents.


Monday, October 02, 2006

10-6 Gambling and Sports

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- That was quick. Just a few weeks after a state think tank called for the New Mexico Lottery to rebid its contract for online vendor services, the Lottery's chief executive officer announced he will do it.
Last month, Think New Mexico issued a scathing report detailing how the New Mexico Lottery needs to cut costs. The number one recommendation was that the online vendor contract be rebid.
The contract doesn't expire for two more years but Lottery chief executive Tom Romero announced last week that it will be rebid by the end of this year.
If GTech, the current vendor loses the bid, the change can't be made until November 2008, but it would at least give both companies adequate notice of the changeover.
The Think New Mexico report revealed that GTech currently is charging 8.52 percent of sales for its services, while similar states are paying as little as 2.16 percent to their vendors. It also outlined numerous scandals in which GTech has been involved.
The purpose of Think New Mexico's cost saving recommendations was to free up more money for the college scholarships the lottery was created to fund.
But that apparently is where Think New Mexico and the Lottery Authority part ways. Romero wants to keep all the money saved by the rebid to hire more staff and do more promotion. Think New Mexico says those costs already are too high.
It appears we are in for more controversy and intrigue.
* * *
Elsewhere in the arena of New Mexico gaming, the do-nothing 109th Congress adjourned without passing legislation banning off-reservation casinos that was pending in both houses.
That means Jemez Pueblo and Santa Fe tycoon Jerry Peters can continue to pursue their plan to build a casino near Anthony on New Mexico's southern border.
That effort has produced a determined clash between Peters and Stan Fulton, owner of the Sunland Park race track and casino. We're in for more controversy and intrigue on this matter too.
* * *
Switching from gambling to athletics, which sometimes isn't much of a switch, the New Mexico Lobo men's basketball team finished dead last this year in national rankings of academic success with a miserable 7 percent graduation rate.
The football team did much better, at 43 percent, but still ranked last in the Mountain West Conference. Performance like that surely makes it difficult to continue calling these guys "student athletes," doesn't it?
This column has often advocated for a system that allows athletes, who don't care about being students, to take another avenue to get to the pros. Colleges call these students "academically fragile." It's also difficult to call someone "fragile" who can slam dunk a basketball.
But that's the way it is. We're told Lobo basketball graduation rates will look much better next year.
* * *
We're also told that New Mexico high schools are ranked next to last in interesting team nicknames. A national survey liked Carlsbad Cavemen and St. Michael's Horsemen and that was it. Texas led the list with 52 nicknames that are unusual or funny.
Sure, there are 10 teams in the state that are eagles and about 30 more that are ferocious cats -- lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars or wildcats. But I have to defend New Mexico athletic teams on this one.
The selection committee obviously missed some good ones, the best being Santa Fe Prep's Blue Griffins. In case it's been awhile since anyone made you read mythology, a griffin is half lion and half eagle -- the kings of land and air. What could be more fearsome?
And sure, renaming the Dexter Demons the Hush Puppies would be cute, but it won't do much to inspire your players or intimidate the opposition. And if there's anything a high schooler doesn't like, it's to be embarrassed.
FRI, 10-06-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)